Empty nesters take back their frontyard in Albuquerque.

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After years of living with the yard in disrepair, this newly empty nest family was ready to take back their front yard. The home is located in one of Albuquerque’s oldest areas of town known as the historic Atrisco neighborhood. This couple bought their home in Atrisco along the escarpment for the expansive views of the city but un-expectantly gained a community where families and history run deep.

There were many issues with the front yard that the homeowners had just grown accustomed to. The steep slope of their driveway made it difficult to park a car on, small retaining walls were falling apart, and a large side yard merely collected trash and debris from past home improvement projects. Amongst the debris, the side yard had a unique feature, a historic iron bell hung from rough cut timbers. This bell had gone into disrepair, the side yard was full of weeds and dirt, and the retaining walls holding up the steep slopes were showing their age.

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After meeting with the homeowners and discussing their needs, budget, and desires; we created an overall Master Plan for their front yard. This included rehabilitating the steep slope with new retaining walls, addressing drainage issues from roof runoff by adding a swale, and creating an outdoor living area outside their living room sliding glass doors. The master plan would be their guide for creating their dream yard step by step over time as budget allows. In fact this family was no longer using their driveway due to its disrepair. Instead they were walking down 12’ of steps to and from their house carrying groceries week after week.

A master plan of your yard is of huge value when working on a project in phases. It helps you think through and understand the big picture.
A master plan of your yard is of huge value when working on a project in phases. It helps you think through and understand the big picture.

These yard issues were overwhelming to the homeowners who were left wondering where to even begin. Once I understood their concerns, issues, and needs I went to work creating them a Master Plan that was broken up into priorities that fit their budget and needs. Breaking down the yard into small doable tasks is important to the projects success.

In the side yard we were able to provide the homeowner with 600 additional square feet of outdoor space off their living room. We did this by creating a northern exposure patio space with flagstone pavers, stucco seating boncos, and planters. (PRO TIP North and eastern exposures are a great place to locate patios because they remain cool and protected throughout the hot summer months.)

An existing rusty old bell went from an afterthought to a prominent feature.
An existing rusty old bell went from an afterthought to a prominent feature.

The homeowners live in a very friendly neighborhood, in fact after being there for a month overseeing the construction I was welcomed into the community. The neighbors regularly get together for evening drinks and dinner. This side yard was the perfect space for inviting the neighbors down into the home. The couple did surprise me by requesting an outdoor brick oven for baking bread. Traditionally called an horno, you can find these located outside of practically every home in the New Mexico pueblos. We decided to create a beautiful horno to anchor the space, as a nod to the rich history of New Mexico, and to provide nourishment (in the form of bread or pizzas) to family and friends.

This water feature was originally located in the front entryway of the couples home. I found it sitting in the backyard and asked if we could re-purpose it. This space was just the place. We made a few adjustments to the stucco wall to mimic the curve of the fountain.
This water feature was originally located in the front entryway of the couples home. I found it sitting in the backyard and asked if we could re-purpose it. This space was just the place. We made a few adjustments to the stucco wall to mimic the curve of the fountain.
Horno, is a mud adobe-built outdoor oven used by Native Americans and early settlers of North America. The horno has a beehive shape and uses wood as the heat source. The procedure still used in parts of New Mexico and Arizona is to build a fire inside the horno and, when the proper amount of time has passed, remove the embers and ashes and insert the bread to be cooked.
Horno, is a mud adobe-built outdoor oven used by Native Americans and early settlers of North America. The horno has a beehive shape and uses wood as the heat source. The procedure still used in parts of New Mexico and Arizona is to build a fire inside the horno and, when the proper amount of time has passed, remove the embers and ashes and insert the bread to be cooked.
Tiered fountain detail for an Albuquerque residence where history is celebrated and community gather.
Tiered fountain detail for an Albuquerque residence where history is celebrated and community gather.
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This rusty old bell is now a central feature in this New Mexico outdoor living area.
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Simple copper spout creates a lovely sound in this New Mexico courtyard.
Custom copper smoke release cap for Horno.
Custom copper smoke release cap for Horno.
Wooden door to retain heat in the Horno.
Wooden door to retain heat in the Horno.
View of Horno as seen from the street.
View of Horno as seen from the street.

Due to the steepness of the front entry this side yard was barely visible to the street, we wanted to make it more inviting to the community. We did this by raising the stucco wall along the property line and opening up a few views into the space from the street. By strategically planting the terraces with a mix of evergreens, ornamental grasses, and perennials we were able to create a semi-transparent buffer area with strategically placed vantage points into the yard.

This couple now regularly enjoys their front yard either with a quiet glass of wine listening to the trickling sounds of the water feature or with an impromptu neighborhood potluck complete with fresh baked bread.

Outdoor New Mexico living space created from what was once a catch all storage area.
Outdoor New Mexico living space created from what was once a catch all storage area.

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Comments

  1. Jennifer says

    Hey, it’s our yard!!

    One unexpected thing that we love is the reading nook with the Adirondack chairs. Removing the storage space there meant relocating our garbage, recycling, and composting to the other side of the yard. But now we have a peaceful nook shaded by a neighbor’s tree. In the past, the tree was more of an annoyance than a feature, but now, we look up into deep green and listen to the rustles, and feel cool even on a hot day.

    The horno is fun, because we have to learn how to manage the fire and embers to cook. Much more interactive than modern ovens.

    We do love this beautiful spot. Thanks, Jill!

    • Jill Brown says

      Hi Jen,

      I love that in the patio a reading nook was created without us even knowing it! So great to hear you are enjoying the space. That really brightens my day! Enjoy it and great to hear from you!

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